Oil Spills

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An oil spill can be defined as an accidental or deliberate dumping of oil or petroleum products into the ocean and its coastal waters, bays, and harbors, or onto land, or into rivers or lakes (Holum 1977). Between one and ten million metric tons (one metric ton is 1000 kilograms) of oil are put into the oceans every year. The oil is released, most often, in small yet consistent doses from tankers, industry, or on shore waste disposal (Boesh, Hersher, et al. 1974). Tanker spills cost the United States more than one hundred million dollars every year. Spill frequency increases proportionally with tonnage carried, in a linear manner. Non-tanker spills also increase linearly and account for thirty percent of all spills. The Atlantic area…show more content…
Organisms living at or near the surface are impacted more than others in the area. These organisms include those in intertidal areas, heuston, seabirds, and bottom dwellers. The type of oil spilled influences the extent of damage that is done to the organism. Crude oil is the most common petroleum product that is found in oil spills. Crude oil is a complex mix of hydrocarbons with small amounts of sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen and traces of inorganic and organometalic compounds. There are three classes of hydrocarbons: alkanes, alkenes, and aromatics. Alkanes, in low concentrations, cause anesthesia and narcosis, and in high concentrations, cell damage and death, in marine invertebrates. Alkenes, which are not typically found in crude oil but in refined products such as gasoline, are more toxic than alkanes, but less toxic than aromatics. Aromatics are not common in nature but they can kill ocean organisms, not only at full strength, but in diluted concentrations as well. Aromatics are the most immediately toxic component found in oil (Boesch, Hershmer, et. al. 1974). Some dangerous hydrocarbons include benzene, toluene, naphthalene, and phenanthrene. Benzene inhibits blood cell formation, and they all cause local irritation of the respiratory system, excitation or depression of the central nervous system, and are mutagenic, carcinogenic, and teratogenic. The effects of oil on organisms can be broken down into two subdivisions, chemical

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